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Court's child support pilot program proves successful

Many people have a negative image of parents who fall behind on child support payments. They imagine delinquent parents do not care about their children and spend all their money on themselves instead. The truth is, a significant number of parents fail to make timely payments because they simply do not have the money. However, courts are working to provide guidance to delinquent parents, increasing their chances of meeting their obligations.

A few weeks ago, we wrote about how parents who are behind on child support payments could end up behind bars for failure to pay in a timely manner. However, not all courts want to send delinquent parents to jail. In fact, one is currently piloting a program to provide assistance for parents without tossing them into debtors' prison.

While this pilot program is taking place outside Georgia, it could just as easily be happening in any court in our state. In this program, referred to as the Problem Solving Initiative, the Judicial Branch's Family Support Magistrate Division seeks to help parents resolve problems such as drug addiction, unemployment and homelessness that commonly prevent them from making child support payments.

The program has now been in effect for one year, and reports indicate that it has been a success. Child support payments have increased by 55 percent. Further, experts believe the alternative program has helped keep parents out of incarceration.

At this point, not everyone is eligible for participation in the Problem Solving Initiative. Parents who are selected for inclusion generally have a criminal record, an unstable work history and a lack of education. Many have been homeless or addicted to illegal substances. Participation is completely voluntary. Participants who fail to act appropriately are sent back to traditional family court, where they may end up behind bars.

Because child support payments are essential to the health and well-being of children, the courts are actively seeking new ways to encourage parents to make their payments. Supporters of this pilot program hope to see more guidance, which can help these children receive steady support in the future.

Source: courant.com, "A Helping Hand, Rather Than Jail, For Parents Who Owe Child Support," Rick Green, 15 April 2011

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